Honduras expelled from OAS

WASHINGTON: The Organization of American States late Saturday expelled Honduras in reaction to last week's military coup that ousted President Manuel Zelaya. Zelaya, who was exiled by the coup leaders, has expressed his intention to return to his home country Sunday. Thirty-three out of 34 members of the pan-American body, gathered here for an extraordinary session of its General Assembly, voted in favor of the expulsion. The assembly acted on the basis of Article 21 of the OAS Charter that gives member-nations the right to suspend membership of a country in case of an "unconstitutional interruption of democratic order" and when "efforts to address the situation through diplomatic means have failed." The article was used by the organization for the first time since 1962, when Cuba was suspended from the OAS following its joining the Soviet bloc. The resolution adopted by the General Assembly urges OAS member-nations as well as international organizations "to review their relations with Honduras." At the same time, it asks Honduran coup leaders to respect human rights. The measure was recommended earlier Saturday by OAS Secretary General Jose Miguel Insulza, who said that "no other alternative existed" but to exclude Honduras over its refusal to reinstate Zelaya.

Throwing his backing behind the beleaguered Honduran leader, Insulza said "the de facto authorities in Tegucigalpa are not disposed to restore Zelaya." Insulza spoke after returning from a brief trip to Honduras Friday during which he sought in vain to persuade the interim government to bring Zelaya back to power, and warned of increasing tension and polarization.

Zelaya, who was also in Washington, said he was "optimistic" on the eve of his planned return to Honduras.

"I am very optimistic because everyone has repudiated and rejected these acts" Zelaya said, referring to the military-backed coup. The Honduran leader earlier told a television news station in Venezuela that he would return to his country on Sunday, and do so with "several presidents" of allied countries.

"I am planning my return to Honduras... We will arrive at the international airport in Tegucigalpa, Honduras with several presidents (and) members of international organizations," he told Caracas-based station Telesur.

The emergency OAS meeting was also attended by Argentine President Cristina Kirchner and Paraguayan President Fernando Lugo. President Rafael Correa of Ecuador was expected in the US capital early Sunday.

Meanwhile, Catholic leaders in Honduras warned of a potential bloodbath if Zelaya returned to the country.

"We think that a return to the country at the moment could provoke a bloodbath," Cardinal Oscar Rodriguez -- the capital's archbishop -- said on national radio and television, reading a message from the country's Bishops' Conference.

"To this day no Honduran has died. Please think, because afterwards it will be too late," Rodriguez added.

Insulza also agreed that Zelaya's planned return to Honduras was dangerous and risky and that the ousted leader had "to make up his mind" on whether to undertake such a step. "I think there are risks, of course," the OAS secretary general told reporters. "If you ask if it is a safe return, of course not."